An Obvious Title for Our Lady
The title, Madonna of humility is not, as we would think, a title given to Our Lady originating from an apparition or event. In fact, it is a title honoring her humility by portraying her in a certain manner in paintings, sculptures or icons. These images show her sitting on the ground or upon a low cushion. In some works, the Child Jesus is in her lap. Honoring her humility in this way began in the mid 1300’s.
Earliest Known Painting
The earliest known painting of this type dates to 1346 and is at the Museo Nazionale in Palermo, Italy. The painting illustrates Mary seated on a small cushion just above the ground, holding the Child Jesus. It has the inscription, Nostra Domina de Humiltate (Our Lady of Humility). The low cushion is intended to symbolize her humility.
In 1361, an altar was dedicated to the Madonna of Humility in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. This style painting spread quickly throughout Italy and by 1375 new paintings began to appear in Spain, France, and Germany.
“To be taken with love for a soul, God does not look on its greatness, but the greatness of its humility.” ~Saint John of the Cross~
Catholic Definition of Humility
The Catholic dictionary defines humility as “The moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness…….recognizing one’s total dependence on God…..” It is easy to see this virtue in Our Lady and to understand why we honor her with this title.
“The soul’s true greatness is in loving God and in humbling oneself in His presence, completely forgetting oneself and believing oneself to be nothing; because the Lord is great, but He is well-pleased only with the humble; He always opposes the proud.” ~Saint Faustina~ Divine Mercy in my Soul~
There are so many ways to honor Our Lady. She possesses every virtue and throughout the centuries, has been venerated many times over for each one. There are paintings, prayers, poems and music; all created to offer reverence to her beauty, a beauty which undoubtedly, was physical, but its physicality was a mere reflection of the beauty which existed interiorly. One of the most important facets of her beauty was the reflection of her humility.
“The truly humble reject all praise for themselves, and refer it all to God.” ~Saint Alphonsus Liguori~
The Magnificat ~ The Ultimate Example of Our Lady’s Humility
In her Magnificat, Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid…….”
In his book, The Glories of Mary, Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote, “On another occasion, our Lord showed Saint Bridget two ladies. The one was all pomp and vanity. “She,” He said, “is Pride; but the other one whom you see with her head bent down, courteous towards all, having God alone in her mind, and considering herself as no one, is Humility: her name is Mary.” In this revelation God was pleased to make known to us that the humility of His blessed Mother is so great that she is humility itself.
“She is humility itself.” Is that not a beautiful way to describe Mary? And does it not offer motivation for us to become more like her. Emulating Our Lady is a lifelong effort but beginning with humility, we have a sound foundation.
Of All Her Virtues
Saint Louis de Montfort tells us to imitate Mary’s virtues.
These virtues are; Angelic sweetness, Ardent charity, Blind obedience, Constant mental prayer, Divine wisdom, Heroic patience, Lively faith, Profound humility, Surpassing purity, and Universal mortification,
Viewing this list can be a bit intimidating but in it, we can see how humility is needed to practice every other virtue. Although artists are not usually known for being humble, the artists who painted The Madonna of Humility surely recognized this virtue in Our Lady. There are many paintings by many painters. Some are more beautiful than others, but what they have in common is a gentle representation of Mary’s humbleness.
“Humility is the mother of many virtues because from it obedience, fear, reverence, patience, modesty, meekness and peace are born. He who is humble easily obeys everyone, fears to offend anyone, is at peace with everyone, and is kind with all.” ~Saint Thomas of Villanova~
So Many Ways to Honor Mary
We clearly see that Mary is the most honored woman who has ever existed and paying homage to her will continue until the end of time. She is honored in prayer, art, music, poetry, special Feast Days throughout the year, festivals, gardens and, of course, the Rosary. Why? Why is Mary so important? Because she is the Theotokos, the God Bearer, the Mother of Jesus. And why was Our Lady the child who was chosen to bear the Christ Child? For many reasons, and I have no doubt that her humility was one of them.
“Humility and charity are the main supports of the whole vast building and all the other virtues depend on them. One makes up the foundation; the other, the roof of the building, the sturdiness of which depends on both. If the heart constantly dedicates itself to the practice of these two virtues, it will have no difficulty with all the others.” ~Saint Padre Pio~
Prayer to Our Lady of Humility
O God, who looks down upon the lowly and knows the heights from afar: grant that your children may with pure heart imitate the humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary; she who was pleasing to you in her virginity and in humility conceived our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son: Who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen